If you were to take a hornworm caterpillar and remove it’s brain, it would continue to trudge forward. (That’s what a cruel little boy told me, anyway.) This suggests to scientists that the secret of locomotion is inherent in the caterpillar’s body.
At Tufts University, a multidisciplinary team of researchers are joining the wave of scientists who believe the answers to technology can be found in nature. Right now they are in the process of creating creepy, crawly robots that will move like the real deals. This type of caterpillar robot could be used to find land mines, and repair machinery in hard-to-reach spots like nuclear reactors and spacecraft. Speaking of hard-to-reach spots, it is hoped that the robots will also be useful in diagnosing and treating diseases like colon cancer. (You’re putting that WHERE, doctor?!)
The problem with conventional robots is all the hard, constrictive joints, which call for complex programming to coordinate every little movement. Since caterpillars don’t have that problem, these researchers see them as an ideal model.
The initial prototype is a hollow tube. The "muscles" are wire springs made from shape memory alloy. An electrical current heats the springs, causing them to constrict; once the current stops, the elastic skin stretches the wire back into its resting shape. "It's almost childish, the simplicity of the design," a Tuft researcher says. (Well, in that case- I’m going to make my own with a slinky, and an AA battery.) A silicone rubber, by the brand name Dragon Skin, covers the frame. Its composition can be manipulated so that it can be tough and leathery, or supple and clammy.
Eventually, the researchers hope to build on the work of David Kaplan, a Tufts professor of biomedical engineering who has pioneered the creation of tough, flexible materials based on spider silk so that the creatures would be largely biodegradable. Posted by: Rebecca Sato
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference A "Creepy" New Robot -Coming Soon: